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Counter barrage of misinformation



ELSEWHERE in this issue, we carry a story of how some religious leaders have expressed serious concerns over how the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Lesotho has been undertaken. The clerics argue that they were never fully briefed so that they could play a leadership role in the community in fighting the pandemic. They argued that this had left them severely weakened and incapacitated as they could not confidently explain to their congregants how vaccines work. They said there was lack of information and mistrust as well as misinformation on Covid-19 and the entire vaccination programme. The clerics were speaking at a Vax Up, Mask Up, Wash Up Campaign organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Thaba-Tseka last week. At the centre of the whole Covid-19 crisis in Lesotho is the issue of communication. When the pandemic broke out in December 2019, most governments were not prepared and did not know how to respond to the pandemic. There was widespread panic across the globe. Health experts and governments spoke in apocalyptic terms when warning their people about the new disease. There was a lot that was not known then. Frightening images of mass burials and emergency “vehicle morgues” on the streets became quickly etched on the minds of the people. Amidst the fear and confusion, the Covid-19 vaccination message was quickly hijacked by a bunch of religious zealots who spread misinformation and outright lies through social media about the whole vaccination agenda. The toxic nature of the Covid-19 debate has meant that most governments, which are often widely distrusted, have always been on the back-foot as they sought to counter the outright falsehoods. Previous medical malpractices have meant certain sections of society, mostly black communities in Western countries, have remained hostile to vaccination programmes of any nature. When you add that skepticism to religious zealotry that becomes an extremely toxic concoction. We have seen how some religious fanatics have fought hard against Covid vaccines even when it became clear they had no biblical basis against vaccines. They have told their flocks that the whole vaccination programme is a Western ploy to change people’s DNA. Some have even told people that the vaccines cause infertility and that it is a programme designed to control population growth. Sadly, this barrage of falsehoods on social media has not been successfully countered. We would like to believe that Lesotho could have made use of some religious leaders in the rural areas to educate and propagate correct messages surrounding issues of vaccination. With 90 percent of Basotho professing to be Christian, we would like to believe that clerics are in the best of positions to spread the message and convince their congregants about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. The clerics command deep respect in their communities and must be brought into programmes to educate rural communities. We note with a deep sense of satisfaction that Lesotho has now vaccinated about 15 percent of its 2 million people. That is a big achievement which must be commended. At present vaccination has largely remained a voluntary exercise. It has remained a matter of personal choice. It would be good to keep it that way. However, in the interests of the greater good of the rest of society, there might come a time in the very near future where vaccination might have to be compulsory. We know that human rights defenders might squeak about vaccine mandates. But that would be for the greater good of society.

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